The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Conferences!

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Dear Commons Community,

Living in the age of coronavirus, many of us have become dependent on Zoom or Facetime or some other videoconferencing software to continue meeting friends, colleagues and in my case, students.  I am Zooming at least twice a day to keep up with it all.  I have found the Zoom technology to be very reliable but still issues evolve that sometimes hinder one or more participants from engaging fully in the meeting.  Here are a list of dos and don’ts courtesy of Aliya Chaudhry of the The Verge.

“As more and more workplaces transition to being remote, we’re learning how to navigate all the aspects of working digitally. Meetings are moving entirely online, which means that we’re attending a lot of video conference calls. If you don’t have a lot of experience with video conferencing, it may take some getting used to — especially when your whole team’s now working remotely. While it’s helpful to treat it like an in-person meeting, there are also a few more things you have to consider when you’re on a video call. Here’s a guide to the do’s and don’ts of video conferencing.

Set up your space

If you can, find a private place to take the call. If not, use headphones to minimize background noise. If you have roommates, partners, or family members who are also working from home (or just stuck at home), let them know beforehand that you’ll be in a meeting to minimize interruptions.

Set up your device or camera so that it has a clear, unobstructed view of you. Don’t sit too far from (or too close to) the camera. If you’re using a separate camera, place it near your screen — it’s best to put the camera at eye level, so that when you’re looking at the screen, it appears as if you’re looking at the person you’re talking to.

Make sure your face is well lit. Natural lighting and side lighting work best, but overhead lights will work well, too. Backlighting can often make it hard to see; if you can’t change the backlighting, try to put another light in front and to the side of your face.

Clean up the area around you. Open up the camera on your laptop or switch on your external camera and see what’s visible in the background before the call, and check that you’re comfortable showing that on a video call (so put away your laundry and make sure whatever’s on your walls is work-appropriate). Oh, and you might also want to set up a virtual background, if you don’t have time to tidy up your space.

Check your appearance

One of the best parts about working from home is getting to wear sweatshirts and sweatpants all day, but that may not be the right move for a video call. Dress how you would for an in-person meeting, and make sure to follow your workplace’s dress code. You don’t need to do anything extra, like put on makeup if you don’t wear it normally, but it’s a good idea to present a reasonably good appearance.

It’s best to avoid patterns or stripes which may be distracting on camera. Wearing a bright white or black shirt may cause your camera to auto-adjust the brightness and make it hard to see your face, so wear a less extreme color. It also doesn’t hurt to have good posture.

Starting the call

It’s a good idea to test your video conferencing software before the call, especially if you’ve never used it before. Also, make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection and that your device is either plugged in or fully charged.

Give yourself a few extra minutes before the call to set up and if possible, log onto the call a little early, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the software that your host is using. Once the call has started, check to see if everyone can hear and see each other. A good way to do this is by having everyone either check in or introduce themselves.

Know when to turn off your audio and video

Mute your side of the call if you’re not speaking. Your microphone can pick up a lot of background noise, so muting allows others on the call to easily hear who’s speaking. Also, if you need to get up or move around or do something else during the call (or if your toddler suddenly makes an appearance), it’s a good idea to switch off your video to avoid causing any distractions.

Signal when you want to talk

During in-person meetings, you can pick up on visual cues to help find the right time to speak. It’s a lot easier to accidentally interrupt on a video call. Wait for a few moments of silence before speaking up in case there’s a sound delay.

If your company or team is going to have regular online meetings, it’s a good idea to decide on a system for asking questions, such as raising your hand or using chat to ask a question. If you’re running the meeting, it’s also helpful to call on people by name.

Speak clearly and watch how fast you speak (and don’t forget to unmute yourself!). But speak at your normal volume — there’s no need to shout, and if you do, your co-workers may lower their volume and then miss something else.

Keep in mind that you’re more visible on video calls than in offline meetings

Stay focused

Be attentive and engaged during the call. As tempting as it is, try not to do any other work or read articles or send emails. (Don’t look at your phone and don’t eat!) Try to look into the camera when you talk. If you look at yourself or others on your screen, it may look like you’re looking at something else. When you’re not talking, make sure you’re paying attention to whoever’s speaking or sharing their screen and that you’re looking at any materials you may need to reference. (Again, others can see where you’re looking.)

If there’s a pause in the conversation because, for instance, you need to pull up an email or reference a document, make sure to communicate that. Delays or long stretches of silence might make it seem like you’ve lost connection, so this just keeps everyone on the same page.

Keep in mind that you’re more visible on video calls than in offline meetings, since you get to see close-ups of everyone’s face individually instead of a whole group of people at once. It’s often helpful to keep your own face visible on-screen, just as a reminder that you’re on camera, and so you can see what others are seeing.

Sharing your screen

If you do need to share your screen during a video call, take a few seconds to prepare before you hit that share button. Clear your desktop of any extra tabs or programs you may have open and make sure any private or sensitive information is hidden.”

Happy Zooming!


What the Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Means for Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday the news cycle was completely taken over for coverage of the $2 trillion federal stimulus package designed to help individuals, hospitals, state and local governments, and small and large businesses weather the coronavirus.  It also includes funds to give colleges and students whose semesters were upended by the coronavirus pandemic more than $14 billion in emergency relief, according to the text of a spending deal.  Some of this might still change as the final wording is worked out and enacted.

The new stimulus bill, which is expected to pass both chambers of Congress this week would also temporarily suspend student-loan payments over six months, through the end of September.  Here is further analysis courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“,… the stimulus funding would fall well short of the $50 billion in federal assistance that nearly a dozen higher-education associations said was needed to keep colleges and students afloat. “While this legislation is an improvement from where the Senate started, the amount of money it provides to students and higher-education institutions remains woefully inadequate,” Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in a written statement on Wednesday.

The stimulus package would allocate more than $6.2 billion each to higher-education institutions and emergency student aid, with nearly $1 billion going to minority-serving institutions such as historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges. It also would give the Education Department the authority to distribute an extra $300 million to colleges hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis.

Institutions that have more students eligible for Pell Grants would probably receive more funds under the bill, and the funding formula that determines such amounts would exclude all students who worked exclusively online before the disaster.

The bill would also suspend the payment of student loans through September 30, with the Education Department covering the interest on most federal loans through that period. The plan would temporarily suspend all involuntary collection of defaulted loans, including no wage garnishments and no federal interception of government benefits. (The Education Department had already said it would give borrowers the option of halting payments on student loans for 60 days, and on Wednesday it announced it would stop garnishing wages.)

The Senate bill would not cancel student-loan debt during the coronavirus crisis — a relief proposition touted by Democratic lawmakers but criticized by Republicans. A bill in the House of Representatives would have suspended student-loan payments throughout the crisis, with every borrower having at least $10,000 of debt paid off by the Education Department.

Senate Republicans’ draft version of a coronavirus bill would have provided just $3 billion each in relief to institutions and students. The Democratic-controlled House’s proposal would have provided $15 billion to states to distribute to public colleges — and would have given states discretion on how to divvy up an additional $20 billion between elementary and secondary schools and public colleges. It would have also provided $8 billion to private colleges.”

My thinking is that this is a step in the right direction.  How much more our colleges and universities will need will depend upon how long the pandemic lasts.



Congress Agrees on $2 Trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Package!

Dear Commons Community,

The main news today will the the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that will be approved today by both houses of Congress and is expected to be approved by the President.  Senator Chuck Schumer was on the cable channels this morning explaining some of the details of the stimulus as follows.

  • Sliding scale grant of $1,200. per adult; $500. per child with a total family cap of $3,400.  This will be tied to income.  Anyone making over $90,000. will not qualify;
  • Unemployment will be extended to four months from its current three months;
  • $130 billion for hospitals;
  • $150 billion for state and local governments;
  • $350 billion for small businesses;
  • $500 billion for corporations.

A provision in the bill prohibits businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress, and heads of executive departments from receiving loans or investments from U.S. Treasury programs. The prohibition also applies to their children, spouses, and in-laws, according to a summary from the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).  

The measure was added in the portion of the bill aimed at helping distressed industries with at least $450 billion in loans. The massive fund would be controlled by the Treasury Department and could include bailouts to hotels, casinos, cruise lines, and the oil and gas industry. Since earlier drafts of the legislation included virtually no restrictions on how the money would be distributed, Democrats feared it would allow properties owned directly by Trump or his family to receive bailouts.

This all sounds very good and should ease some of the economic stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


New Book: “Chanel’s Riviera: Life, Love & the Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur, 1930–1944” by Anne de Courcy!

Chanel's Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944 by [De Courcy, Anne ]

Dear Commons Community,

I just finished reading Chanel’s Riviera: Life, Love & the Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur, 1930–1944 by Anne de Courcy.  It provides a most interesting view of life on the southern coast of France during two critical periods of the 20th century, namely the Great Depression and World War II.   Ms. de Courcy covers these periods through the lives of the rich and powerful namely Coco Chanel and her friends who live in luxury on the French Riviera while the rest of the world struggled economically, only to see much of it come crashing down with the Nazi movement in Germany and World War II.  In addition to Chanel, there are stories about the likes of Winston Churchill, the Duke of Windsor,  Pablo Picasso, Aldous Huxley and others.  Chanel’s own life is an interesting story of survival.  She was an orphan  at a very young age but ends up building very successful fashion and perfume businesses.  Her lover during WWII is a high-ranking German officer who protects her from the Gestapo and who enables her to maintain her lifestyle. There are also concerns about her being anti-Semitic and having sympathy with the Nazi regime. The second half of the book also provides a lot of insight into the plight of Jews who escaped Germany and other parts of Eastern Europe to Unoccupied France, only to see their lives upended during the latter part of the war.  The well-known exit route of Marseilles to Casablanca to Lisbon is covered.

In sum, I found it a most interesting read that helped me escape for a while from the coronavirus world we are living in.

Below  is a review written by Selina Hastings for Literary Review.

I highly recommend it.



Dancing While France Burned

Chanel’s Riviera: Life, Love & the Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur, 1930–1944

By Anne de Courcy

‘In the summer of 1938, the burning question on the Riviera was not what Germany was going to do next but whether or not to curtsey to the Duchess of Windsor.’ So begins Anne de Courcy’s fascinating account of the social history of the Côte d’Azur, beginning in 1930 and ending with the Allied landings in 1944. Since Queen Victoria’s first visit in 1882, the Riviera had grown increasingly fashionable, although it was not until the late 1920s that it began to attract visitors during the summer. It was exactly at this period that Coco Chanel, with the unerring foresight of the successful businesswoman she had by then become, bought La Pausa, her large and beautiful villa at Roquebrune, overlooking Menton on one side and Monte Carlo on the other.

Chanel, who in Paris lived in a suite at the Ritz, was almost unique in establishing herself as both a successful entrepreneur and a distinguished figure in high society. Her maison de couture in the rue Cambon had become world-famous, her dresses and perfume in demand among the wealthy all over the world. During her long life she had many lovers, among them the second Duke of Westminster and Igor Stravinsky, and a wide of circle of friends, not only in the aristocracy but also among painters, writers and composers. Her slender figure, fine features and supreme elegance were widely recognised and admired, her sartorial impact equally significant in Paris and the south of France.

By 1935, the popularity of the Riviera was at its peak among the rich and celebrated. Some of these were regular visitors, others were permanently embedded. They included Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, D H Lawrence, Jean Cocteau and Somerset Maugham, as well as society figures such as Maxine Elliott, Daisy Fellowes, the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson. Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor, Florence Gould regularly gambled away millions at the casino in Monte Carlo, and the elephantine Maxine Elliott at her luxurious Château de l’Horizon could be seen regularly hauling herself out of her swimming pool for yet another meal of gargantuan proportions. Once married, the Windsors moved into the sumptuously decorated Château de la Cröe, where the little duke, even at the height of summer, would appear in tweed jacket and tartan kilt wheezing incompetently away on his bagpipes. The passing of the Nuremberg Laws in Germany that year was largely ignored by haute société on the Côte d’Azur.

Along other parts of the south coast, however, the consequences of these events were unavoidable, as growing numbers of Jewish refugees began pouring in over the border from Germany. At first they were mostly made welcome, but as their numbers grew, so did an atmosphere of hostility and often bitter feelings of resentment among the local inhabitants. Memories of the last war were still uncomfortably vivid and in many communities xenophobia lay only just below the surface. Among the poorer classes, suddenly surrounded by newly arrived Jewish German immigrants, distaste and fear rose readily to the surface. Un Boche, c’est toujours un Boche was frequently muttered when a cleaning woman, employed by one of the newcomers, had been reprimanded or paid late.

Despite the growing menace of the Nazi regime, however, the smart set on the Riviera continued to enjoy themselves much as before. The summer of 1939 was full of firework parties, balls and open-air concerts – until suddenly, with the fall of the Maginot Line in May 1940, the whole country collapsed into chaos. When the Germans marched into Paris, millions took flight, making their way towards the comparative safety of the south. It was not long before conditions there dramatically deteriorated, with internment camps opened for refugees and foreign residents escaping by sea. The remaining population faced years of poverty and near starvation, with frequent riots taking place as supplies of food rapidly diminished.

Meanwhile in Paris, Chanel, always mildly anti-Semitic, felt little antipathy towards the enemy, and soon, at the age of fifty-eight, began an affair with a German officer thirteen years younger than she. Hans Günther von Dincklage, blond, handsome, charming and clever, was delightful company, regularly taking Chanel to dine in expensive restaurants, the German high command enjoying a luxurious standard of living denied to the rest of the city. As time passed, Chanel, accompanied by von Dincklage, even returned for a while to La Pausa, seemingly unaffected by the misery and chaos all around, the horrific sight of thousands of Jews rounded up for deportation and the visible impact on the local people of the desperate shortage of food.

In 1944, after the Allies had landed on the coast near Cannes and the Germans had left Paris, Chanel, suspected of collaboration (not only because of her relationship with von Dincklage, but also because of a couple of unexplained visits she had made to Madrid and Berlin), was taken in for questioning. After only a few hours of interrogation, however, she was released. It was later assumed that this was due to her friendship with Churchill.

In Chanel’s Riviera, Anne de Courcy has written a well-researched and compelling story. She maintains a remarkable balance between, on the one hand, Chanel and her world of the rich and famous and, on the other, the lives of ordinary people desperately struggling to survive in a country on the brink of annihilation. Drawing on an immense volume of material, she has succeeded not only in constructing an intriguing portrait of Chanel herself but also in expertly conjuring the two very different worlds that then existed side by side.


7 Takeaways from Higher Education’s Move to Online Learning!

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Dear Commons Community,

While all segments of society are adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic, higher education has been pushed headlong into delivering instruction via online technology.  It’s too early to tell  if this experiment in online mobilization will work. Many institutions just started teaching remotely this week. But early lessons have already made themselves evident.  Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education written by Lee Gardner that  identifies seven takeaways from this mobilization.

What most colleges are doing right now is not online education. When administrators and faculty members first gathered at Hampshire College, in Massachusetts, to discuss how to tackle teaching remotely, Ed Wingenbach, the president, stressed to everyone that they should not presume that they were creating online courses. Designing online instruction is a discipline backed by decades of learning science, and “a process that takes months, if not sometimes years, to do properly,” he says. “I wanted to make it clear to everybody that that’s not what we’re doing.”

What most colleges are doing right now is more like remote education, says Susan Grajek, vice president for communities and research at Educause, a nonprofit organization that advocates for technology in education. Colleges aren’t putting in place well-considered, durable online-learning plans. They’re throwing together quick, ad hoc, low-fidelity mitigation strategies — and that’s fine, for now.

“You can think of this less as planning a big, formal party at your house and hosting 50 people. and more as having a crowd of 50 people suddenly show up at your front door hungry,” Grajek says. “In those situations, you’re limited to the stove you’ve got, the number of chairs and tables and paper plates you have, and the food and equipment that you have on hand.”

Thank God for spring break. As disruptive as the pandemic has been for colleges, the timing could have been worse. Most institutions began to face the decision about how to proceed with the rest of their semesters in the week or two before their scheduled spring breaks. Many took advantage of that, getting students off campus early and preparing themselves for online instruction.

Spring break was scheduled for last week at Juniata College, in Pennsylvania, but like many institutions, Juniata extended it to two weeks, in part to help professors prepare for online instruction, which starts this week. “We couldn’t have expected our faculty to be ready in the blink of an eye,” says James A. Troha, the president.

If remote delivery of courses continues into next semester, though, expectations will most likely increase. But the hot months may give colleges time to adapt and improve if they’re forced to contemplate resuming online classes in the fall, or keeping remote instruction handy in case the virus recedes but makes a comeback with the return of flu season.

“We’d have the time to put into the faculty development and faculty support,” says Nancy Cutler, deputy chief information officer for academic technology at Santa Clara.

Many of the tools were already at hand. Many colleges are proceeding with online instruction using their existing learning-management systems to handle assignments and course materials, and common conferencing software, like Zoom, for lectures and discussions. Institutions may have already paid for almost everything they need, says Phil Hill, an education-technology consultant and blogger, but “what’s happening now is you’re using it a lot more.”

It may be a mistake, however, to try to make everyone use a particular platform just because that’s what the institution favors, says Michael J. O’Brien, vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M University at San Antonio. Many professors on campus were already involved in online education, and when administrators decided to move instruction fully online, the university set up a web page that offered faculty members a limited selection of platforms they could use to teach, along with tools to help them do so. But O’Brien made clear that professors should use whatever they felt comfortable using.

“Some universities have tried to mandate that we’re going to use X or Y, like Blackboard,” he says. “I think that’s a disaster. Get the job done, as simply as possible.”

The pivot can be surprisingly cheap. A sudden scramble to shift the most essential part of a college’s operations to an entirely new modality almost overnight seems as if it should be wildly costly. And yet some institutions report relatively minor expenditures, if any.

Santa Clara paid for new lecture-capture and exam-proctoring software, along with some webcams for professors who didn’t have them. It all came to about $40,000. Hampshire paid modestly for some additional Zoom licenses. Juniata paid a local consultant $1,000 and bought a few document cameras and Wi-Fi hotspots. All came in within the college’s operating budget, says Troha, the president.

In addition to handing out spare laptops to students, faculty, and staff, Texas A&M at San Antonio bought 500 Wi-Fi hotspots and ordered 500 more, to help bridge the internet-service gaps that could keep some students and faculty members offline. The hotspots themselves are inexpensive but cost about $40 a month to run. “It’s 40,000 bucks a month for the rest of the semester,” O’Brien says. “We’ll eat that.”

This is your wake-up call. The coronavirus has made it clear that colleges must have a thorough, long-term digital strategy in place. Only 42 percent of institutions have an information-technology business-continuity plan to facilitate remote operations in the event of a disruption like a pandemic, according to Educause data.

The pandemic could change education delivery forever. … Grajek, of Educause, sees a possible silver lining to Covid-19: “This is a time of a lot of creativity, of incubation, of new ways of doing things.” By the time academe returns to whatever passes for normal, thousands of professors who have never, or only grudgingly, taught online will have had extensive experience with a form of online instruction.

Even if the experience doesn’t drive more faculty members to sign up to teach online, many who have run their classrooms the same way for decades may be exposed to more-contemporary teaching methods and concepts, says Brian Larkin, manager of instructional technology at Santa Clara: “This will pay dividends when we do return to a face-to-face environment.”

At Hampshire, which has been doing some soul-searching over recent financial setbacks, President Wingenbach says that the college’s short-term embrace of remote education “might open up some real opportunities for our approach to the liberal arts that we should be thinking about already.”

Ultimately, Wingenbach adds, it may not be up to administrators and professors to say how colleges approach education in the future. If the current wave of online instruction is even, say, 70 percent as good as the face-to-face experience, some students and their parents may want more of it. “I don’t think we can assume that the virus goes away or gets under control, and everything in higher ed goes back to normal,” Wingenbach says. “You can’t unsee what’s happening right now.”

… but it probably won’t. Many forces exerted pressure on the traditional four-year, bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face campus experience before the coronavirus, and they’ll still be there when the virus is conquered or goes dormant. That traditional model is in no danger of going anywhere at many institutions, including Santa Clara. The model is exactly why students come, says Owen, the vice provost, so “the idea that we would strongly pivot away from that, I don’t believe would be something we would do.”

For most, the sooner things get back to the way they used to be, the better. “No one, at the end of the semester, is gonna say, Hey, that was easy, let’s just put a whole bunch more stuff online,” says O’Brien, of Texas A&M at San Antonio. “Not gonna happen.”

I agree with Mr. Gardner’s seven takeaways especially the last one.  While the pandemic has pushed many faculty to move to fully online courses, when this is over I don’t think there will be this incredible rush to fully online courses.  It is more likely that faculty who taught only face-to-face in the past will start using some of the technology into their courses in a blended format of some online and some face-to-face.

In any case, congratulations to college faculty who made adjustments in their teaching in an incredibly short period of time.


Where is Dr. Fauci?

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Dear Commons Community,

Dr. Anthony Fauci was absent from the White House’s daily briefing for the second day in a row today, prompting speculation as to where the nation’s top infectious disease expert was as the nation reels from the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, who serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has for many become a beacon of truth and straight talk as coronavirus continues to spread around the country, often walking back unfounded claims made by the president (the timeline of a coronavirus vaccine, for example, or the growth rate of infections).

But Fauci’s candor and outspokenness has also reportedly drawn the president’s ire. The New York Times reported this morning that Trump has become frustrated with Fauci’s blunt manner and his contradicting of White House statements.

The National Institutes of Health issued a statement that Fauci was still a regular part of the White House briefing schedule.

“He has been at the White House today, in fact,” a spokesperson for the NIH told HuffPost. “They are doing a rotating cast for the briefings.”

When asked about reports that Trump had become frustrated with Fauci’s no-nonsense approach to his warnings about the threat of coronavirus, the NIH directed questions to the White House.

The Trump administration did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Fauci’s appearances.

Fauci gave an in-depth interview to Science this weekend and addressed how he had managed to remain at the White House when many, many others who have stood in Trump’s path have been fired for disagreements.

“Even though we disagree on some things, he listens,” Fauci told the scientific journal. “He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

Trump did say that he had “learned a lot” from Fauci and Birx.

“I can say I’m a student, you’re a student, we’re all in this together,” Trump said. “I’ve learned a lot from Deborah, I’ve learned a lot from Tony, from a lot of people.”

When pressed about where Fauci was, the president pledged he would be “back up very soon.”

“I was just with him for a long time,” Trump said. “He understand this is a tremendous test to our country. It was nobody’s fault; it just happened. This horrible virus came from nowhere. He fully understands that.”

“He’s a good man” the president continued. “I like Dr. Fauci a lot.”

Trump said today he was hoping to “open up” the country and its foundering economy “a lot sooner” than people were expecting. The Washington Post reported that the White House was weighing calls from GOP lawmakers and advisers to scale back social distancing steps in order to kickstart the financial markets despite warnings from public health officials.

When asked what public health officials thought of the plan, including Fauci, Trump said they didn’t disagree with him, but he also alluded that measures called for by the medical community were at odds with what he considers best for the economy.

“If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s shut down the entire world,” Trump said, noting earlier: “I’m not looking at months. We’re going to be opening up our country. … You can’t keep it closed for years. OK? This is going away. We’re going to win the battle.”

Dr. Fauci has been the most important spokesperson for the administration during this pandemic.  He needs to be present at these press conferences to give them credibility.



Maureen Dowd and Jennifer Senior on Trump’s Coronavirus Press Conferences – They “Ain’t” Good!

Maureen Dowd and Jennifer Senior

Dear Commons Community,

In yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Review, Maureen Dowd and Jennifer Senior each had opinion pieces on Donald Trumps coronavirus press conferences. Neither was very flattering. 

Maureen Dowd in Thank God the Doctor Is In, praises Tony Fauci for his honesty and clarity during these sessions and blasts Trump for his shallowness and self-serving comments.  Her summary:

“Trump has never understood anything about government, so he doesn’t know what the C.D.C. versus the F.D.A. versus FEMA should do. His improvisational leadership style was vividly — and disturbingly — on display Friday during a call with Chuck Schumer, who urged him to invoke the Defense Production Act to get ventilators and masks to desperate states — despite the president’s cavalier remark a day earlier that the federal government is “not a shipping clerk” for the states. “Then POTUS yelled to someone in his office to do it now,” a Schumer spokesman reported.

Trump is just a petrified salesman who believes in perception over reality. He thinks if he can create the perception that this is going to be a quick fix and there’s a little pill coming, then the stock market will roar back, along with his 2020 momentum.

With F.D.R. and the Great Depression, the only thing to fear was fear itself. With Trump and our new abyss, we have to fear not only fear but also the ignorance and misdirection of the White House and the profiteering of senators. Not to mention the virus.”


Jennifer Senior in her piece, Call Trump’s News Conferences What They Are: Propaganda, comments that in a time of global emergency, we need calm, directness and, above all, hard facts. Only the opposite is on offer from the Trump White House. It is therefore time to call the president’s news conferences for what they are: propaganda.

We may as well be watching newsreels approved by the Soviet Politburo. We’re witnessing the falsification of history in real time. When Donald Trump, under the guise of social distancing, told the White House press corps on Thursday that he ought to get rid of 75 to 80 percent of them — reserving the privilege only for those he liked — it may have been chilling, but it wasn’t surprising. He wants to thin out their ranks until there’s only Pravda in the room.

Sometimes, I stare at Deborah Birx during these briefings and I wonder if she understands that this is the footage historians will be looking at 100 years from now — the president rambling on incoherently, vainly, angrily, deceitfully, while she watches, her face stiff with the strangled horror of a bride enduring an inappropriate toast.

If the public wants factual news briefings, they need to tune in to those who are giving them: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose addresses appear with English subtitles on Deutsche Welle. They should start following the many civic-minded epidemiologists and virologists and contagion experts on Twitter, like Harvard’s Marc Lipsitch and Yale’s Nicholas Christakis, whose threads have been invaluable primers in a time of awful confusion.”

Dowd’s and Senior’s pieces provide important insights into a major problem, if not an undermining, of the efforts of many good people to help our country weather the coronavirus pandemic. Please read them!



New York Stock Exchange to Abandon Trading Floor due to Coronavirus!

Dear Commons Community,

For the first time in 228 years, the New York Stock Exchange will open without its trading floor.  Trading will be fully electronic when the bell rings and buying and selling starts at 9:30am New York time.  Most of the action already takes place in a data center, and now, temporarily, all of it will. Executives are shutting down the trading floor to protect employees and stop the spread of Covid-19 as New York is declared a major disaster

The disruption is symbolic, underscoring how the new coronavirus has run riot through the world, though the floor closure itself will likely have little if any impact on the $28 trillion stock market.  Here are further details courtesy of the Associated Press.

“While heavy cleaning has probably rendered the exchange one of the most hygienic places on the planet, NYSE Group COO Michael Blaugrund said in a podcast that employees would still be at risk when commuting to the company’s iconic headquarters at 11 Wall Street. Closing the floor now removes the risk of a sudden, unplanned shuttering in the days and weeks ahead.

There’s no question that stock trading can proceed without NYSE’s floor and its colorful brokers. The vast majority of equity trading has been fully electronic for years: London Stock Exchange, which has roots going back three centuries, hasn’t had a trading floor since 1986. US stocks are bought and sold on dozens of fully electronic exchanges and dark pools.

That isn’t to say trading hasn’t been turbulent. Stocks dropped off a cliff this month, plunging into a bear market so rapidly that NYSE’s circuit breakers—which pause buying and selling after a sudden rout—have been triggered an unheard-of four times since March 9.

“It’s been both impressive and extraordinarily frustrating,” Blaugrund said of coping with the mayhem remotely. The market infrastructure has been resilient despite the extraordinary strain, he said, but operating remotely at such a time has been far from optimal.

“To be in market conditions that are this extraordinary and dealing with strategic questions that are this significant, and having to do it from a distance, is maddening,” Blaugrund said.

Given that nearly all exchanges have abandoned their physical trading floors, a lot of people wonder why NYSE still has one. When the exchange was acquired by Atlanta-based Intercontinental Exchange in 2013, some thought it would mean the end of the floor at the “Big Board.” But it’s still there, and the company insists it’s a vital part of trading.

One reason to keep it around is branding. The brokers have become the human face of Wall Street, providing a backdrop and marketing punch for one of the best-known names in the financial industry. The company touts the 30 media outlets on its trading floor, and the building’s iconic neoclassical facade, as reasons to list there. NYSE’s initial public offerings are broadcast around the world, a kind of Super Bowl for Wall Street. Its bell ringing ceremony is unique, thanks to the trading floor.

NYSE also gives its floor brokers a special advantage during the day’s closing auction, which helps keep the humans relevant and in demand from customers. Closing auctions are important because they determine the day’s official final price, and many fund managers are gauged against that value.

While buying and selling is splintered among exchanges and dark pools during most of the trading day, liquidity returns to the exchange that lists a given stock during this event. The closing auction can be a good place to make big trades.

Floor brokers have a special tool called the “D Order”—which is short for discretionary order—during the closing auction. This gives the human brokers extra time to tweak stock orders at the end of trading. The D Orders are popular, and NYSE says almost 6% of the trading volume for the stocks it lists takes place at the close.

But for now, D Orders won’t be available, and floor brokers won’t be able to participate either. Other personnel, like designated market makers, who are charged with providing regular liquidity and maintaining orderly trading, will still be working remotely. IPOs can also still go ahead.

Blaugrund said closing the floor was a hard decision to make because “the market quality from human intervention is unparalleled.” Brokers say having people around still matters, especially when markets go into a meltdown. In 2012, when a software error at trading firm Knight Capital caused it to lose $440 million in 30 minutes, there were people on the NYSE floor manually closing down stock trading.

If trading in the coming days is anything like the pandemonium of the past few weeks, this is a time when NYSE would likely much prefer to have traders and brokers still working shoulder-to-shoulder like usual. But overall, stock exchange trading has been surprisingly stable given the strain.”


Photos: Major Tourist Areas in the Age of Coronavirus!

New York – Times Square

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press has assembled a photograph collection of major tourist areas that normally would be bustling with people that are now pretty much abandoned due to concerns about coronavirus. Here is a sample.

Look and Weep!


Rome – Piazza Navonna

Las Vegas – The Strip

Berlin – The Brandenburg Gate

Barcelona – La Sagrada Familia

Paris – The Eiffel Tower

Teotihuacan, Mexico – Pyramid of the Moon

Rio de Janiero – Arpoador Beach

Istanbul – The Blue Mosque

New York – Grand Central Station

Jon Meacham Op-Ed:  We Can’t Let Coronavirus Postpone Elections!

Image result for jon meacham

John Meacham

Dear Commons Community,

Presidential biographer Jon Meacham has an op-ed in today’s New York Times entitled,   We Can’t Let Coronavirus Postpone Elections.  He reminds us that even in wartime, America has never halted or suspended its democratic traditions and we should not let the pandemic do it now.  Below is the entire op-ed.

Good advice for our troubled times.


New York Times

By Jon Meacham

March 20, 2020   

Darkness reigned. It was 1864, and the nation was split into two warring camps. Casualties rose steadily — previously unimaginable numbers, ultimately reaching about 750,000 dead — and fighting continued throughout the year. Gen. George McClellan, the Democratic nominee, posed a genuine threat to a second term for Abraham Lincoln. McClellan promised a quick, negotiated end to the war; a Lincoln defeat would have led to a permanently divided nation and the preservation of slavery in the Southern states.

The fate of the war, the future of the Republic, the nature of the American experiment: Everything hung in the balance. And to preserve that experiment, Lincoln insisted that the presidential election go forward.

The president was fully prepared to lose the election and, according to due constitutional form, to surrender power the following March. In August 1864, in a private note, he wrote, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected.” But he would accept the verdict of the voters. Here was an incumbent president, the commander in chief of a nation facing a sustained armed rebellion, unilaterally subsuming his own ambitions and his own priorities to the very constitutional order then under siege.

He was unwilling to sacrifice democracy to save it — a lesson we need to bear in mind as the coronavirus pandemic threatens primaries in many states and could, in the Age of Trump, conceivably affect the general election in November.

Louisiana, Georgia, Connecticut, Kentucky and Ohio have postponed their state primaries because of concerns over the transmission of the coronavirus. Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are scheduled for April 28 — about the time the curve we are hoping to flatten may or may not be trending in the best of directions.

It will be tempting for leaders in those states and others to postpone their primaries. Instead, in this hour of crisis, state officials — understandably scrambling to secure their people — should do all they can to hold their elections as soon as possible. The legitimacy of the eventual Democratic nominee could depend on it.

History is on the side of proceeding in times of uncertainty. There’s something in the American character that has long insisted on pressing ahead with democracy’s fundamental task: the casting of ballots and the choosing of leaders. In addition to the Lincoln example, historians know that James Madison was re-elected amid the War of 1812; the midterm elections of 1814 took place not long after the British had invaded Washington; the 1918 balloting occurred despite the ravages of the Spanish flu; the 1932 election went forward in the face of the Great Depression; and Franklin Roosevelt was re-elected in 1944, during World War II. Even 9/11 delayed the New York City mayoral election only by a matter of weeks.

We have world enough and time — and, in several states, the experience — to make the voting in November safe and secure. Colorado offers us perhaps the most promising model. A “vote at home” state (Hawaii, Oregon and Washington have forms of this, too), Colorado mails ballots to all registered voters well in advance of Election Day. Voters can either mail them back or drop them off at central locations at any point in the weeks-long window of time. Most people have chosen this option; think of it as curbside democracy.

There are security issues, of course: ballots could be intercepted and illegally cast by people with access to a person’s mail. There are, however, signature-checking safeguards in place. No system — including the current one — is perfect. But we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This coming Monday, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden are introducing legislation to make mail-in ballots available to every voter in America.

We need to have these kinds of conversations about the election honestly, rationally, and now. The sooner the better, for chaos could lead to a nightmare scenario: the possibility that President Trump might take advantage of the unfolding health crisis to delay the November election.

Alarmist? Not for anyone who’s paid even glancing attention to the president’s will to power and contempt for constitutional convention. Though he’s recently signaled that postponement isn’t an issue, in the past he’s also joked — at least we think he was joking — about blowing past the two-term limit imposed on presidents by the 22nd Amendment. He retweeted Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s suggestion that Mr. Trump be given two additional years in office to make up for time lost to the Mueller probe. And he has long trafficked in conspiracy theories about unproven voter fraud in 2016.

The good news is that the Constitution so ably defended by Lincoln gives the executive virtually no control over the timing of elections. Anxious about monarchal absolutism, the founders invested Congress, not the president, with the power to schedule the selection of presidential electors. In a 1934 decision, the Supreme Court held that Congress has every “power essential to preserve the department and institutions of the general government from impairment or destruction, whether threatened by force or corruption.” By statute, Congress has set the date — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, every four years — and the power to alter that date lies not with the branch established by Article II, the executive, but with the lawmakers whose authority is rooted in Article I.

Scholars do not believe that even action by the president under national-emergency powers could postpone the quadrennial election unless Congress agreed — which means the Democratic House may be the only bulwark against constitutional chaos come fall.

These are early days in this crisis. We could do worse, though, than to look to Lincoln. When he wrote his letter about possible defeat in the summer of 1864, he said he would stay at his post until the last hour, true to his oath, making the best of things with President-elect McClellan to “save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.” In the gloom of disunion, a bit of light. May we find our way forward as Lincoln — and all of us — did in other days of darkness.